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October 26, 2011

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HSE Olympics report overlooks key safety lesson, says union

The HSE has published the first in a series of research reports on the London 2012 Olympics as part of a concerted effort to circulate the health and safety lessons learned from the Stratford project among the wider construction industry.

However, construction union UCATT believes the report, entitled Leadership and worker involvement on the Olympic Park, has ignored a key safety factor.

The Executive started working with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) soon after London was awarded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and set out clear targets of what standards were expected, encouraging strong leadership and sharing of good practice. Up to this month, the HSE has received reports of only 114 injuries and eight dangerous occurrences that occurred during the project’s 66 million hours of work.
The report, says the Executive, shows how the ODA adopted an inclusive, ‘no-blame’ approach to managing risks, which could be adapted to any project – irrespective of its size, or budget.

HSE director for London 2012 Stephen Williams said: “The ODA’s creation of a ‘no-scapegoating’ culture allowed workers to raise issues without fear of reprisal, learning lessons to apply across the site, and reducing the risk in hazardous activities.”

However, UCATT argues that the real reason workers had the confidence to raise safety concerns was an agreement reached in 2007 between the unions and the ODA that only directly-employed workers should be employed on the Olympic Park.

It points out that accident rates on the Olympic Village were consistently higher than those on the Olympic Park, despite the latter being a more complex project. According to UCATT, in the final three months of 2010, when work was nearly at its peak, the accident frequency rate on the Village reached 0.24 million man hours compared with a rate of 0.11 on the Olympic Park.

Jerry Swain, regional secretary for UCATT London and South East Region, said: “The difference between the accident rates on the Olympic Village and the Olympic Park is stark. Direct employment, allied with full-time union representation, created the environment in which worker involvement could be achieved.”

While applauding the HSE for its efforts to disseminate the Olympic safety lessons to the wider industry, law firm Eversheds warned that the Executive had its work cut out, given the financial health of the sector. Michael Conroy Harris, a construction specialist at the firm, said: “That the HSE wants to build on the lessons learnt from London 2012 is laudable, but we mustn’t ignore the clouds on the horizon – construction insolvencies are still rife and cut-throat tendering will probably lead to increasing failures in the next few years.

“It’s an inescapable fact that corners will be cut by struggling businesses and we need to be vigilant to ensure that safety is not compromised. Last year saw a rise in work-related deaths for the first time in a number of years, which should serve as a word of warning.”
Challenging the sector to follow the ODA’s example, Stephen Williams added: “The construction industry has for many years been one of the most dangerous in which to earn a living. London 2012 is important because it shows it doesn’t have to be that way. No matter what size your organisation, no matter what size your project, small changes in the way you operate can have a huge impact on the health and safety of your workers. I want the rest of the construction industry to follow London’s lead.”
The full report can be accessed via the revamped HSE London 2012 website.

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10 years ago

UCATT is right on thisone, but it’s not just because of the confidence that directly-appointed workers have that they will be heard without fear or favour, it’s the level of influence that the ODA has over it’s own workforce that has helped shape the culture on this project.